What Interviewers Actually Look for in Case Interviews
There’s a good reason why every single consulting firm uses case interviews to assess candidates. In just a 30- to 40-minute case interview, an interviewer can get a good sense of whether a candidate would make a great consultant.
Case interviews are a unique type of interview used by consulting firms to assess five important qualities in candidates. Having these qualities is critical to passing your case interviews and landing your consulting job offer.
In a case interview, you are evaluated on five criteria: 1) structure, 2) problem solving, 3) business acumen, 4) communication, and 5) company culture fit. These are the most important qualities to be a successful consultant.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- The five things interviewers look for in case interviews
- What interviewers look for in consulting first round interviews
- What interviewers look for in consulting final round interviews
- What interviewers look for in written case interviews
- What interviewers look for in group case interviews
The Five Things Interviewers Look For in Case Interviews
Criteria #1: Structure
Consultants are often asked to solve complex business problems in a short period of time. To deliver high-quality work and meet tight deadlines, consultants need to work efficiently,
Structuring complex problems helps break them down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved. Structuring also helps consultants ensure that they are not missing anything that is critical to solving the case. Finally, structuring helps consultants divide up work and avoid redundancies.
During the case interview, the interviewer will be assessing whether you can structure your thoughts and ideas in a methodical, logical way. Interviewers look for:
- The ability to structure complex problems in a clear, simple way
- The ability to organize ideas and thoughts using a comprehensive and coherent framework
- The ability to use logic and reason to make appropriate conclusions
Criteria #2: Problem Solving
Consultants use data and information to develop recommendations for clients. As a consultant, you’ll likely work with large company datasets, customer surveys, and secondary research reports.
You will need strong problem solving skills to analyze the data and information to answer the most critical questions to solve the case.
During the case interview, the interviewer will be assessing your problem solving skills. When faced with uncertainty, can you find an appropriate answer? Interviewers look for:
- The ability to conduct the right analyses to draw the right conclusions
- Strong data interpretation skills
- Math proficiency in performing calculations smoothly and accurately
Criteria #3: Business Acumen
Clients rely on consultants for their business knowledge and experience. Experienced consultants have worked on many difficult projects and have developed a strong business instinct.
This instinct helps consultants make informed hypotheses on what the potential answer could be, which helps lead them down the right path to the final recommendation. A strong business instinct helps consultants make the right decisions and develop the right recommendations.
During the case interview, interviewers look for:
- A strong understanding of fundamental business concepts
- Reasonable business judgment
- A sharp business instinct
Know that you don’t need any specialized knowledge about a particular industry or function. Most consulting firms recruit for generalist roles, so you will not need any outside knowledge to solve the case.
Criteria #4: Communication
Communication is key for consultants to work efficiently and effectively. As a consultant, you’ll be collaborating with your team on a daily basis. It is important to be able to share information and updates quickly and clearly.
You’ll also be giving presentations to the client. In these presentations, being articulate and persuasive helps the client buy into the recommendations that you are proposing.
During the case interview, interviewers look for:
- Clear and concise communication
- Articulate presentation skills
- Persuasion skills
Criteria #5: Company Culture Fit
You may have all of the previous qualities needed to become a great consultant, but if you don’t work well with other people at the firm, you will likely not go far in your consulting career.
Since consultants spend so much time working closely together in small teams, getting along and working well with your teammates is critical to success. You’ll be more efficient working with teammates that are friendly and easy to work with than with teammates that are antagonistic or selfish.
Interviewers look for:
- Collaboration skills
- The ability to be coached and listen to feedback
- Friendliness and being pleasant to be around
The Two Questions You Need to Pass
At the end of the interview, interviewers will ask themselves two major questions. You will need to pass both of these questions in order to pass the case interview:
- Can I see this person as a future consultant?
- Would I want to have this person on my team?
Structure, problem solving, business acumen, and communication are the four qualities you will need to demonstrate to pass the first question. Company culture fit determines whether you will pass the second question.
If the answer to both of these questions is a “yes,” you likely have passed the interview.
What Interviewers Look for in Consulting First Round Interviews
Consulting first round interviews are used as a quick screen to distinguish candidates that can solve case interviews proficiently from those that cannot. To pass your first round consulting interview, you just need to ace your case interviews.
You will need to score high enough on the first four components:
- Problem solving
- Business acumen
Although company culture fit is important, this quality is not as heavily assessed in first round interviews. Interviewers just want to see that you can solve case interviews well.
Unless your personality or behavior raises significant red flags, the company culture fit component should not prevent you from getting a final round interview. As long as you are polite, respectful, and friendly, you will be fine on this component.
What Interviewers Look for in Consulting Final Round Interviews
For final round interviews, all candidates have demonstrated that they can solve cases efficiently and effectively. In your consulting final round interviews, you need to continue to demonstrate that you can ace your case interviews.
If you perform well on your first round cases, but not your final round cases, this shows a lack of consistency. Interviewers will likely question your case interview abilities and think that you got lucky in passing your first round cases. Solving your final round cases well is a must.
However, even if you ace your final round cases, you may still not get a consulting job offer.
For consulting final round interviews, interviewers place a heavy emphasis on company culture fit. They want to better understand who you are as a person, what your personality is, and what values you hold.
Although consulting firms generally look for the same set of qualities, some firms value particular qualities more so than others.
Bain, for example, highly values collaboration and a work hard, play hard personality. BCG, on the other hand, highly values intellect and creativity. McKinsey values executive presence.
To score high on the company culture fit component, make sure to research what qualities the consulting firm you are interviewing for values.
What Interviewers Look for in Written Case Interviews
Written case interviews are a special variant of the traditional case interview. Instead of working with the interviewer to solve a business problem, you’ll be given a packet of 20 to 40 pages of graphs, tables, and text.
You’ll then have 1 to 2 hours to analyze the information and prepare 3 to 5 slides to present to the interviewer, who will ask you follow-up questions.
In written case interviews, interviewers assess slide making in addition to the typical five components assessed in case interviews: structure, problem solving, business acumen, communication, and company culture fit.
Interviewers Heavily Assess Slide Making in Written Case Interviews
Making great presentation slides is a crucial skill for consultants. They need to present complex analyses and insights in a simple and clear way that clients can understand. Consultants also need to be able to craft compelling stories around their recommendation.
In order for the client to act on a consulting firm’s recommendations, they need to understand the analyses and buy into the story that the consultants are presenting.
Therefore, in written case interviews, there is a heavy emphasis on slide making. Interviewers look for:
- The ability to create slides that are clear and easy to understand
- The ability to craft a compelling story or narrative around your recommendation
What Interviewers Look for in Group Case Interviews
Group case interviews are another special variant of the traditional case interview. Like a case interview, you’ll be placed in a hypothetical business situation and asked to develop a recommendation for a business problem. However, instead of working by yourself, you’ll be put in a group of 3 to 6 candidates.
The group will be given materials to read. Then, the group will discuss the case and work together to prepare a presentation to share their recommendation.
In group case interviews, interviewers assess teamwork in addition to the typical five components assessed in case interviews: structure, problem solving, business acumen, communication, and company culture fit.
Interviewers Heavily Assess Teamwork and Communication in Group Case Interviews
Consultants face challenging business problems that cannot be solved by an individual alone. Strong teamwork skills is needed to efficiently divide up work and collaborate with teammates.
Therefore, in group case interviews, there is a heavy emphasis on teamwork and communication. Interviewers look for:
- The ability to make meaningful contributions while working in a group
- The ability to bring out the best ideas and qualities in other people
- The ability to handle conflict or disagreements
- Being easy to work with
Summary of What Interviewers Look for in Case Interviews
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